Backstory: Richard Maibaum on James Bond

[The following remarks by Richard Maibaum are from Backstory 1: Interviews with Screenwriters of Hollywood’s Golden Age.]

The James Bond Films

In 1956 or 1957, when I was in England writing for Cubby and Irving Allen, Cubby gave me two of the James Bond books to read. I read them and liked them enormously. Cubby was very excited, too, but Irving Allen didn’t share his enthusiasm. So Cubby put them aside. It’s my personal opinion now that that was a wise thing to do, because with the censorship of pictures that existed then, you couldn’t even have the minimal sex and violence that we eventually put into the pictures. They just wouldn’t have been the same.

Later, when Irving Allen and Cubby broke up, Cubby got together with Harry Saltzman, who had an option from Ian Fleming, and he and Cubby joined forces. Cubby went to New York and convinced the United Artists board of directors to give him and Saltzman what eventually amounted to $1 million to make the first picture. I didn’t know Saltzman at the time, but Cubby told him about me, and I was asked to go over there and write the first James Bond script.

Thunderball was actually the first; we decided it was the one to start with. I finished a first draft, and then Kevin McClory jumped up with a lawsuit against Ian Fleming, claiming he wrote the novel after they’d done a screen treatment together. So we put Thunderball aside until that was settled and decided to do Dr. No. I was then in London, after having finished the first draft of Thunderball, so I began to write Dr. No with Wolf Mankewitz. Cubby and Harry didn’t like our first treatment, so Wolf bowed out; and I went on to do the first draft of the screenplay. Later, after I left, a novelist named Aubrey Mather (Jasper Davis is his real name) did some work on it with a girl playwright, Joanna Harwood.

On From Russia with Love they had Len Deighton start, and he did about thirty-five pages; but it wasn’t going anywhere, so they brought me in. I did the screenplay and got a solo credit on it. Joanna got an adaptation credit, because she worked some with the director, Terence Young, and made several good suggestions. I was a little put out that she was given an adaptation credit because I didn’t think she deserved it, but there are always politics in these things.

On Goldfinger I did a first draft. Harry Saltzman didn’t like it, and he brought in Paul Dehn, a good writer, to revise. Then Sean Connery didn’t like the revisions, and I came back to do the final screenplay. That was the first time that happened: where I was followed by someone and then called back to finish up.

I worked on Thunderball again and got a solo on On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which is one of the best of the Bonds despite Lazenby. After I did the first script on Diamonds Are Forever, I left and Tom Mankiewicz came on. They liked his work, so Tom stayed on to do Live and Let Die. Then they used Tom again on Man with the Golden Gun. He had a disagreement with Guy Hamilton, and I was asked to come back and rewrite that. Then, on The Spy Who Loved Me I did the first draft, followed by Christopher Wood, who also wrote Moonraker. Gilbert, the director, liked his work; I didn’t. Then, after Moonraker I began to work with Michael G. Wilson, an unusually versatile, talented young man, and we did For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, and A View to a Kill.

I’ll tell you something about a James Bond script. How many scenes would you think are in the Octopussy screenplay, for instance? Over one thousand! Whereas it’s rare that scripts have more than two hundred or three hundred scenes. Sometimes directors don’t want the writers to break it up to such an extent, but I always do. I figure, you’re fooling yourself and everybody else if you don’t do that. It’s pretty well worked out in advance—especially with men like John Glen and Peter Hunt, who were great editors. You can’t take short cuts. (I remember once, when I was doing the script for one of my favorite early pictures, Ten Gentlemen from West Point in 1942, I wrote, “Then follows the Battle of Tippecanoe.” And Darryl Zanuck noted in the margin: “Who are you kidding, kid?”)

Basically, in a way, the pattern of the story is the same in all of the Bonds, and I think that is one of the attractions of the pictures. You have that engine working, the James Bond syndrome—with all the conspicuous consumption, the luxurious locales, the beautiful women, the larger-than-life villains. We’ve carried it much further than Fleming. Bond is absolutely dedicated and devoted to serving Queen and country; he never questions what he does or the morality of it. In an article he wrote, Charles Champlin says that Bond is the man who rides into town to set things right, and he calls him the Musketeer. Well, I told you: the Dumas books had a helluva influence on me.

Ian Fleming

I met Ian Fleming several times while he was still alive, but I did not speak to him about screenwriting. He didn’t seem very interested. He didn’t have script approval, but as a matter of courtesy we gave him the scripts to read. He would make minimal notes in the margin, in very tiny handwriting, that usually dealt with questions of protocol—what Bond called M in the office as opposed to what he called him at their club, things like that.

He did say to me once, “The pictures are so much funnier than my books.” He was a little bemused and a little obtuse about it, I thought, because he really didn’t understand that we were trying to make them funnier. That was the thing we changed most about his books as far as the pictures were concerned. We made Bond more humorous, throwing away those one-liners that are now obligatory in Bond films.

Fleming was strange about the books. I think he got bored with the Bond stories after a while, especially after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, on which he really did a superb job. As a novel I think it’s the best of them and the one we had to do the least with to make a good motion picture script. It was a solid novel, more of a serious effort than most of his books, which are really one hundred pages of brilliant exposition and then some good, swift action.

I told this to Fleming once, “There is an untransferable quality in your writing.” It’s all very well; Fleming writes two and a half pages describing the fish underwater, the beautiful waving weeds, the colors—but, what the hell, it’s just a pretty piece of celluloid when you see it on the screen. In other words, we had to popularize to a great extent. I won’t use the word vulgarize, because we’ve tried very hard, and Cubby has tried very hard, to keep the pictures from being vulgar. If someone suggests something that is really vulgar, he’ll wince. Partly the difference is in going from a kind of cult audience to a mass audience. It was only a cult audience of readers that kept Fleming alive for a long time before the pictures really discovered him. As books, they were not caviar to the general.

A Pretense of Seriousness

Penelope Gilliatt once said that Bond films were “modern mythology.” In my opinion, they started this whole larger-than-life approach to action-adventure pictures. There have been others, of course; and Burt Lancaster always ribs me about imitating the style of The Crimson Pirate [1952]. But I do think the Bond pictures started this whole cycle, and then everybody else climbed on the bandwagon. That’s not generally accepted. I think Raiders of the Lost Ark [1981] was, except for having a wonderful gimmick (the ark itself), a kind of Bond picture. The action, the villains, the unexpected!

You know, Hitchcock once told me, “If I have thirteen bumps in a picture, I think I’ve got a picture.” A bump is something like someone says, “I’m looking for a man who has a short index finger,” and a totally unexpected guy says, “You mean like this?” That’s in The 39 Steps. After Dr. No Cubby, Harry, and myself decided that we weren’t going to be satisfied with thirteen bumps in a Bond story, we wanted thirty-nine.

As a writer I think one of my contributions to the Bonds is that I maintained a pretense of seriousness. I took them seriously, the way Cyril [Hume, Maibaum’s early screenwriting partner] took the Tarzans, as if they were really happening, although of course such things don’t. There are no secret agents like Bond; secret-agenting is really a pretty dull business most of the time, despite all the legends and the myths. But I took it seriously, and I learned something quickly: the audience is willing to be lenient about what is real and what is not real. They will allow you to be humorous, and then they will allow you to strike the humor and be serious for a moment as long as they are being entertained. Any time you are not serious about it, the picture suffers.

Then, I think, my work on the first four films set the pattern and had something to do with the character of Bond—his humor, his savoir faire. I know I insisted on the elegance of the villains—especially after I saw how great Joseph Wiseman was in Dr. No. “You disappoint me, Mr. Bond; you are nothing but a stupid policeman.” I tried to add a touch of elegance to the dialogue, and some of the directors didn’t approve. Terence Young would say, “Oh, for chrissakes, stop writing Chinese, Dick.” I wanted Bond to have some of that elegance too and not to be the monosyllabic hero that, for example, Harrison Ford is in Raiders of the Lost Ark. He has not a flicker of class or humor, even though he is supposed to be an educated anthropologist.

I feel, about dialogue, Chinese or not, that I try to use words that are proper from a semantic standpoint. And, of course, I object when what I consider to be a good line is omitted. In Octopussy, for example, when Bond goes clandestinely into East Germany, M says, “Take care, 007.” My line for Bond’s reply was, “I promise to look both ways before I cross the street, sir.” It put a father-son relationship between him and M. All gone! The line was cut, I suppose, because Roger [Moore] didn’t like it. But a star can say any goddamned thing he wants really. You know what William Goldman says in Adventures in the Screen Trade, that a star is a person no one ever contradicts. He has to be pampered even when it hurts the scene.

Of course, directors also change dialogue. Terence Young is a writer too, but I groaned each time he threw in his favorite cliche, “Easy come, easy go.” But there are always some added lines that are funny, lines I ruefully wish I had thought of. That is one of my strong points as a collaborator: I have a tolerance of other people’s ideas and am able to select the good ones and fight like hell against those I think are bad. I am able to take an idea someone else has thought of and go beyond it.

In retrospect, I’ve had a great deal of fun doing the Bonds, although the fun was mixed up with many problems that had to be solved, problems that look so simple once they are solved. Once I become involved in a Bond film, I get fascinated all over again with the difficulties and the possibilities. In between, I keep saying, "Well, I’d like to do another Bond, but to try and think up a new caper, something we haven’t done…” But something new always comes up. And, of course, I’m well paid.

…I haven’t written a stage play in thirty years. Every now and then I get a possible glimmer, but I haven’t been able to overcome my block. Did you happen to see the letter I sent Time magazine about writer’s block? They had an article about it that suggested a cure: “Don’t try to write, just go for a long walk, have a drink, and then see a James Bond picture.” So I wrote to Time and said, “I was pleased by the suggestion to see a James Bond movie to cure writer’s block. Any thoughts about how to cure mine?”

Notes: What you have read is part of a much larger interview with Richard Maibaum that covers his education, playwriting career, and screenwriting/production jobs at MGM and Paramount. If there’s any demand for the rest of the interview I can add it to this thread.

Maibaum’s memory is inaccurate in one area. “Aubrey Mather” was actually Berkely Mather, whose real name was John Evan Weston-Davies, not Jasper Davis. Mather also performed uncredited script work on From Russia With Love and Goldfinger. He had been recommended by Ian Fleming, who had loved Berkely’s novel The Pass Beyond Kashmir.

The editor of Backstory adds the following note of interest to the appendix: “Interestingly, considering Maibaum’s credentials as a staunch liberal, there is a political attack from the right on the Bond themes, ‘Updating James Bond’ by Richard Grenier, in the June 1981 issue of Commentary. Maibaum penned a fierce reply, but it was never published.”
I’d love to read it!

For more on with Maibaum, consult this Starlog interview from 1983 and an unpublished interview conducted at the time of The Living Daylights. The book Speaking of Writing collects several of Maibaum’s articles and speeches, along with a lengthy, never-before-published interview on the Bond films.


Fabulous, many thanks for sharing this gem!

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Really fantastic, kudos!

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Absolutely brilliant

A great read and insight

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Another find from the magazine archives…

Richard Maibaum: Veteran Screenwriter for a Brand-New Bond

The man who penned 11 movie missions for three different superspies tackles his most dangerous assignment, dispatching Timothy Dalton into 007 action with “The Living Daylights.”

By Lee Goldberg and Edward Gross (Starlog 120, July 1987)

There have been 14 James Bond movies, so is a “new” one really new?

For the 15th adventure, The Living Daylights, there’s a new James Bond in Timothy Dalton, a new Miss Moneypenny in Caroline Bliss, and a relatively new M in Robert Brown (who debuted in 1983’s Octopussy).

And there’s a new angle to selling 007. Last time, with A View to a Kill, the emphasis was on the thrills, with “adventure above and beyond all other Bonds.” Now, the attention is back on the agent himself, “the Most Dangerous Bond Ever.” It’s reflective of an obvious change in Bonds—from Roger Moore to Timothy Dalton—and a change in approach.

“I’ve been feeling for some time that we’ve been getting a little too far out,” says Richard Maibaum, who co-wrote The Living Daylights with the film’s co-producer, Michael G. Wilson. “I happen to think that Timothy Dalton gives us a new lease on life. We can go back to the more realistic espionage stories rather than the far-out fantasy tales.”

Maibaum, 77, has been penning Bond adventures, both outlandish and realistic, since the series began with Dr. No in 1962. “I think the films have given Bond more humor,” he observes. “Bond was pretty humorless in the books, and the dimension of humor that we put there was, I thought, very helpful to the pictures.”

In all, Maibaum has written or co-written 12 James Bond movies, the last three with Wilson, the stepson of 007 producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli. This isn’t the first time the filmmakers have tried to recapture the harder-edged Bond, played by Sean Connery, that made 007 what Maibaum calls “a part of the public consciousness.” The most obvious attempt was with For Your Eyes Only, a film in which Maibaum believes they largely succeeded.

But it’s not that the movies have been written any differently, Maibaum says, it’s just that the actors playing Bond—Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore and now, Timothy Dalton—have “colored the role with their own personalities.”

License Renewed

The Living Daylights was written with no particular actor in mind, “just the James Bond character we all know.” Moore has often said he would quit, only to sign on again for more money. This time, though, it wasn’t a ploy.

Maibaum and Wilson were still hammering out the script while casting was being discussed, detailed and determined. Who would be the next 007—would it be Ian Christenson? Sam Neill? Tom Selleck? Mel Gibson? Bryan Brown? They finally settled on Pierce Brosnan, NBC’s Remington Steele. When Brosnan couldn’t get out of his TV series commitment, the producers opted for Dalton, a “classical actor” whom they had been considering since For Your Eyes Only.

(They also recast Miss Moneypenny, a role played since Dr. No by Lois Maxwell. “We thought the best time to do it was when we got a new Bond,” says Maibaum. “I hate to see her go, because I loved her, she was great. I don’t know what the audience reaction will be to a new Moneypenny. I think they won’t mind. After all, it has been 25 years. Lois Maxwell is still a beautiful woman, but now she isn’t the hep chick that Moneypenny could and probably should be.”)

“I guess Pierce Brosnan would have been more like Roger,” says Maibaum. “But we really didn’t make any changes for Roger, either. It’s just that he saw Bond in a more humorous fashion than Sean did and was very successful at it, as the box office shows.”

Dalton has taken the role “more seriously,” and isn’t hampered in that effort by the megalomaniac supervillains and imminent, outlandish, global disasters which have characterized so many Bond films.

“Some of the more fantastical elements that have been in the pictures lately are not in this one,” Maibaum announces. “As a matter of fact, it’s a more realistic story. The whole mood is more realistic.”

At first, the filmmakers toyed with abandoning the series and starting from scratch, with 007’s first adventure. Maibaum and Wilson even wrote a full-fledged treatment.

“We had some very good things in it,” Maibaum says. “But Cubby felt the audience doesn’t pay to see James Bond as an amateur. Naturally, if you tell that story, you have to show him making mistakes and how he learned his trade. It cuts out too many of the things the audience enjoys watching Bond do.”

So, they tossed out the treatment and went back to the Ian Fleming short story “The Living Daylights” for inspiration.

“Bond is sent to Germany to cover the escape of a defector from East to West,” says Maibaum, detailing the Fleming yarn’s storyline. “While he is staked out there, he sees through his rifle sights, a bus full of girl musicians arrive in East Germany and go into a conservatory to rehearse.”

One of the women is a KGB assassin. Rather than kill her, Bond shoots the gun from her hands. “That’s very Bondian,” the writer explains. “He won’t kill a beautiful woman for no reason at all. Also, he likes beautiful girls.”

The story proved a “good springboard” but then Maibaum and Wilson were faced with “how to make a two-hour movie out of this story. We had to ask ourselves, ‘Who is the defector? Is he really a defector or is he coming to be a double agent? What is he up to? Who is the woman? Why was she there? Was she really going to kill him?’ And one thing led to another and finally, the movie’s story began to evolve.

“There is a greater sense of reality involved in what’s happening this time,” Maibaum notes. “It’s easier, I think, for the audience to identify with. You can have all the magnificent action in the world, but if you don’t care about the people involved with the action, then something is lost. The Living Daylights is an opportunity to see that Bond is not a thoughtless killer, who they push a button on and he’ll go out and kill somebody. So, this is one picture where a man wants to be convinced before the man he is assigned to kill is killed. It was a departure for us, as James Bond would be trying to avoid assassinating someone before he has damn good reason to do so.”

All Maibaum will say about the rest of the plot—he’s worried about giving too much away—is that “the fellow who defects is a high KGB official who has a scheme about selling hi-tech arms, which is really a cover for what he really wants to do with the money.”

If that sounds like some of the covert shenanigans going on at the White House these days, the similarity is unintentional—but nice nonetheless.

“We started to do it and found that real events were overtaking us,” Maibaum explains. “The whole thing suddenly exploded on the front pages with Irangate and we found ourselves with a very hot scenario. Most people, of course, will think we decided on the story after the fact.”

Maibaum is amused by the repeated references to James Bond in the reporting of “Irangate,” once again proving how much 007 has become a lasting part of American pop culture.

“When Senator Paul Laxalt was asked on Nightline if he thought President Ronald Reagan knew about this whole business, Laxalt said, ‘I doubt if he would have anything to do with a James Bond caper like this,” Maibaum notes.

For Special Services

Coming up with the capers is the hardest part of writing a James Bond script. “It’s murder,” Maibaum confesses. “But once you’ve got the caper, you’re off to the races and the rest is fun.”

He calls his writing with Wilson a “close, fruitful collaboration. When we start out, we do a very full treatment, sometimes 50 or 60 pages long. This is, I think, the 21st film I’ve done with Cubby, and he likes to know beforehand what’s going to be. We lay it out very carefully and very thoroughly in scripting. Sometimes, we sit there and write together. Sometimes, Michael will write the first draft or I will write the first draft, and we give it to the other fellow and argue about it. There’s an awful lot of arguing that goes on. But, you know what they say, if collaborators don’t argue, then there’s one collaborator too many.”

Maibaum likes to write in longhand, and then type his material up later, while partner Wilson prefers to work on a word processor. And although Maibaum has more screen writing experience—experience that dates back to movies like 1949’s The Great Gatsby—Wilson has “lots of good ideas. He’s a versatile, accomplished man. He’s a lawyer, engineer, businessman, writer and all in all, a solid contributor.”

Wilson is also, along with sister Barbara Broccoli, heir apparent to the James Bond series when, or if, Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli ever bows out. Although Wilson has worked on five films, and “learned so much from Cubby and those around him,” Maibaum still “hates to think” about what would happen without Broccoli.

“Actually, someone once said that the Bond pictures are not written or acted, they are produced,” explains Maibaum. “The most important aspect in the success of the Bonds is the superb way they have been produced. That doesn’t minimize the contributions that other people make. But it has been Cubby’s great combination of showmanship, good taste, plain courage, bullheadedness and personality that kept it all together.”

Although Broccoli was presented with the Irving G. Thalberg Award (in 1982) from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for his contributions to the movie business, and has received many honors over the years, Maibaum believes “Cubby is still not given the credit that he deserves.

“Can you imagine the strength he must have to persevere through all the ups and downs and difficulties to keep this series going? And at the level of excellence he has maintained?” Maibaum adds. “It really is amazing. I can’t think of another instance of it in motion picture history.”

Probably because there isn’t. The Bond films have endured for 25 years, becoming the most successful and long-lasting theatrical series in history, with no end in sight.

“I think the films have had a good run because they’re good films,” Maibaum says. “The audience knows they’re going to get a good show, they won’t be shortchanged.

“And the James Bond syndrome, of course, has been worldwide. Bond is in the Sherlock Holmes class now. Hardly a day goes by where I don’t see three or four references to James Bond in some way—newspapers, television and so forth. People talk about it. The whole James Bond syndrome has become a part of the culture, and that has a great deal to do with the movies’ success.”

With Ian Fleming titles just about gone (a few short stories remain), Maibaum says Broccoli has bought the rights to the John Gardner 007 novels, which provide fresh titles if not fertile new ground for stories.

And the fact that the 007 series has survived three actors now—the verdict won’t be in for a while on Dalton—shows that Bond could “go on forever.”

“Audiences will want to see more of James Bond,” Richard Maibaum says. “That is, if we continue to make the pictures as well as they have been made in the past.”


A very interesting piece mirroring perfectly Bond reporting anno 1987. Note how often Bond’s cultural impact is mentioned - and how much is made of his Britishness: zero, zilch, nada. The fact that Bond is a British character and reassures Old Blighty of its (self-)importance didn’t figure in the 80s because Britain didn’t yet need it. The series was largely seen as a Hollywood production because that’s where the money came from.

Also note the subheadings, evidently done by somebody familiar with the Gardner continuations but never even mentioning them. Where in a story about Bond script writing it would only be natural to do so. Might even be there was a part where the interviewers asked about Gardner but it was later felt too obscure a detail to weigh in.


After posting the first article on another forum, someone asked why Maibaum hadn’t been asked to write YOLT, LALD, and MR. I took a look at the reference books and found some possible explanations that might be of interest.

Regarding YOLT, in an interview Peter Hunt says Saltsman and Broccoli “had branched out and had put several directors under contract to do other things for them, and they decided they wouldn’t do the other things, and they found themselves either having to pay off these other directors or use them.”

I suspect the producers had also put several writers under contract and had to use them, because the first scripts for YOLT were written by two Hollywood veterans, Sydney Boehm and Harold Jack Bloom. During this time period Maibaum was still working for EON—he was busy adapting OHMSS and had completed a treatment and screenplay in early 1966, followed by another treatment and screenplay the next year. In 1968 he produced the final treatment and three more rewrites.

For DAF Maibaum produced two treatments that were direct follow-ups to OHMSS, featuring Bond in depression, the death of Irma Bunt in the pre-credits sequence, and locations in Southeast Asia. Early screenplay drafts included scenes onboard a Victorian locomotive (as in the novel?) and a climactic battle with Blofeld in a hydroelectric plant.

Broccoli said “we all felt the story a little too tame, too much like any spy thriller,” and Maibaum then produced a draft featuring Goldfinger’s twin brother as the villain, climaxing with an exotic boat chase across Lake Mead. Guy Hamilton “found boats boring” and scrapped the finale. The producers turned to Tom Mankiewicz, who’d been recommended by David Picker, President of United Artists.

For LALD Guy Hamilton insisted the producers rehire Mankiewicz: “I said, Maibaum is a very nice man, I had a lot of respect for him, but at this period he’d run out of, to me, freshness. He was basically an old man compared to Tom.”

One film later the relationship between Hamilton and Mankiewicz had deteriorated so badly that Mankiewicz resigned after completing the first draft, telling Cubby “I really think my usefulness is done on this picture.” Maibaum was brought back and introduced the Solex Agitator plot, which in retrospect he felt “just didn’t work.” During filming someone decided to combine Maibaum’s script with Mankiewicz’s, and the result worked even less.

Maibaum was among the horde of writers employed on TSWLM. At the time Hamilton was still attached to the project and said “Maibaum didn’t want to work with me and I didn’t want to work with Maibaum.” Broccoli considered Maibaum’s draft—which involved modern terrorists from the Red Brigade, Weathermen, and elsewhere taking over Spectre—too political. When Lewis Gilbert was hired he decided the script needed more humor and brought in Christopher Wood, a collaborator from an earlier film. Wood sniffed that Maibaum’s draft “all took place in Norway and the villains were hippies. It seemed very weird to me.”

After TSWLM Tom Mankiewicz was rehired: “Cubby asked me to make a start on Moonraker because they didn’t have any idea how to kick it off.” Christopher Wood was then brought on to turn Mankiewicz’s treatment into the final screenplay; his final draft was in turn revised by Vernon Harris and the team of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. When asked about Moonraker Maibaum was succinct: “Thank God I didn’t write that one.”

In 1979 Ronald Hardy was hired to write a script for FYEO, but it had no influence and was rejected. Maibaum was re-hired and, at his suggestion, began collaborating with Michael G. Wilson. This smart move enabled him to score five consecutive writing credits on Bond films, an unprecedented achievement. In 2015 Purvis and Wade broke his record.


Thank you, first rate post!

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Thanks very much. I really enjoyed of your posts on Maibaum. Great reading.

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Licensed to Thrill

Even after 12 missions with 007, Richard Maibaum is still proud to back up Bond

By Edward Gross (Starlog Yearbook #5, 1989)

In Licence to Kill, James Bond is on a personal vendetta, and so, it could be argued, is screenwriter Richard Maibaum, whose intent has been to offer a different type of Bond for the 1990s; a Bond more akin to the early Sean Connery thrillers of the ’60s than the Roger Moore escapades of later years.

“This particular script is a little different," explains Maibaum, who has helped write 12 Bond film adventures. “It is less fantastical and far out in theme and caper. It’s more realistic, deals with a very important subject and very well suits Timothy Dalton’s capacity to be real and actual, not cute and arch. As a matter of fact, I like Timothy very much. He brings a great reality to the situation. I also think that this is a good kind of shifting of gears into a more realistic, more believable course of action.

“This was a deliberate attempt to tackle a more serious problem,” Maibaum adds, “and by doing so, you cannot take the same airy approach to it that you have in other Bonds, where you have, let’s say, things like breaking into Fort Knox, which is pure fantasy. It was clearly in everybody’s mind that this time, we wanted something dark and something more serious, because we’re dealing with a very serious and terrible evil in the world. We’ve been fortunate in that we have been neck and neck with history in many of our pictures, and here we’ve caught up with General Noriega, which I think is luck and will do the picture some good. The drug lord from Central America is the villain of the day. There’s no doubt about that, so why duck it? In The Living Daylights, for God sakes, we anticipated the Contra business of selling guns. We had that six months before it happened, but it was in the air—the kind of maverick secret agent who goes nuts on his own and embroils countries.

“So, who was there to be the definitive villain of today but the drug lord? We wondered whether we should do it, because there have been other Bond movies that have dealt with drugs. In a peripheral way, The Living Daylights dealt with it too, but in that case, they were just using the drugs to buy weapons. This time, we go into depth regarding the laundering of the money, the making of the drugs and the national organizations involved. It’s very interesting and very real. When it’s all said and done, however, it’s going to be director John Glen’s magnificent stunts and action that’s going to carry it.”

Vendettas to Go

In Licence to Kill, Maibaum’s drug lord is Franz Sanchez, perhaps one of the richest men in the world, who has made his fortune in the trade and will allow nothing to stand in his way, including Drug Enforcement Agent Felix Leiter. To prove this point, Sanchez murders Leiter’s newlywed wife, and feeds the former CIA agent to the sharks, although Leiter does survive.

“These events are so terrible,” says Maibaum, “that Bond, for the first time follows out a strictly personal vendetta…well, not for the first time, because in Goldfinger, the girl was painted gold which gave him that certain added drive. But this thing, having happened to Leiter and his wife, is so close and so personal to Bond, that it gives you a great engine to send the story straight through as Bond follows this guy. Sanchez is an absolute monster in a very sophisticated and clever way, and I must give Robert Davi credit for that. He’s one of the best villains we’ve had, and the amazing thing is that he has this tremendous capacity to project evil, while at the same time you want to kick yourself because you like him for his occasional charm. It’s a very, very skillful job, and I think Davi does it magnificently.

“Anyway,” the writer puts himself back on track, “the film really deals with the business of license to kill. In the film, Bond’s license to kill is revoked. In fact we first called the film License Revoked, which was a nice, literary title, but they decided that most people wouldn’t know what ‘revoked’ means. After all, the concept of license to kill has prevailed all these years. It has a special significance that it really didn’t have when we started. Killing is out just the way that alley-catting around is out, and you must be more circumspect. Yet if Bond’s license to kill has ever been justified, it’s this time, but he’s forbidden by M to exercise it. That’s an interesting idea.”

And to a large degree, Maibaum, who previously discussed his tenure as a 007 scenarist in Starlog #68 & #120, thinks the film works. He believes it manages to touch upon the tone of such earlier fare as From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, thanks, largely, to Timothy Dalton’s portrayal of Bond. “I was really stunned by the picture in that I was very pleasantly surprised by many aspects of it,” observes Maibaum. “I especially thought that Timothy carne alive more, and his being such a good all-around actor—a true Shakespearean actor—allowed him to handle the business of James Bond’s grief at his friend’s wife’s death. He made that believable for me, and somehow was much more sympathetic and human than he had been in the last film. While Timothy doesn’t have the inherent irony and sardonic quality that was bred into the Scotch bone of Sean Connery, he has an effectiveness as an actor so that he makes real, more than any of them I think, what is happening on the screen. That’s something we needed very much.

“Dear old Roger Moore was very good as Bond in his own way and the way he did it, and his pictures were most successful financially. But I’m glad he wasn’t playing the part this time, because he couldn’t have done it. He couldn’t have projected the real grief and horror that Bond felt when he walked in there and saw the girl’s body. Roger’s very good with the light stuff and the flip stuff, but the serious stuff you just didn’t believe. They say when an actor laughs, the audience doesn’t. It got to be a little bit too cute for my money, but I guess the public didn’t agree with me.”

Actors to Change

Maibaum, as a writer who has been involved with the Bond films since 1962’s Dr. No , is equally at ease singing the praises for the various films as he is pointing a critical finger at them. He reflects on the evolution of the series as one Bond actor gave way to yet another.

“Roger was such a change from Sean, and the audience loved Sean so much that it made it more difficult for Roger,” Maibaum explains. “I have to admit that Man With the Golden Gun, in particular, was a weak film. What happens is that they get on the set and try things which seem like a good idea at the time, but they don’t consider that the writer has been breaking his head for six months trying to think of things. On a moment’s notice, they come up with something that’s not that great. Sometimes it does work, but very rarely.

“It’s what the stars want,” Maibaum laughs, “and I think Jimmy Goldman is the one who said, ‘What is a star? A star is a person that no one ever contradicts.’ I wish the day would come in the far utopian land that we’ll live in some day, that the writer is the one that no one ever contradicts. I did think that Roger was getting better, but [by A View to a Kill] the audience was feeling that he was getting a little long in the tooth for a guy who the bobby-soxers were expected to drool about. I think he was ready to call it quits, too. I love Roger. He’s a very delightful and witty outgoing person. He really is, but I think if the series was going to continue, it did need an infusion of the kind of thing that Dalton is doing.”

While the past few Bond films, beginning with 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, have proclaimed that they were moving back in style towards the more serious Connery-type adventures, it wasn’t until 1987’s The Living Daylights, and the introduction of Timothy Dalton, that a genuine attempt to do so became apparent.

“I like The Living Daylights very much,” says Maibaum, “and I like some of the performances. We did have some criticisms that although it was smooth and so forth, the villains weren’t up to scratch and they weren’t. They weren’t evil enough. I like John Rhys-Davies very much. I thought he was great. I also thought Maryam d’Abo was a little colorless. She was sympathetic and gentle; and Bond was properly protective of her, but no one has ever come, in the protective aspect, up to James Bond and Honeychile Rider in Dr. No. He was simply great as far as that was concerned.”

Maibaum also, has fond memories of Diana Rigg, who co-starred with Bond number two, George Lazenby, in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, although he feels Rigg was “lumbered” by the newcomer.

“But she is a magnificent actress,” he points out, “and she almost helped Lazenby to pull it off. I thought she was superb. So was Honor Blackman in Goldfinger. My favorite, however, was Carole Bouquet in For Your Eyes Only. She’s so beautiful. The next one is Daniela Bianchi in From Russia With Love. What a beautiful girl!”

While he holds From Russia With Love and Goldfinger in high esteem, it is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service that fans mention to him most frequently. It’s one of the scripts of which he’s most proud.

“First of all,” Maibaum details, “it was the best of Ian Fleming’s novels. It was more of a novel than any of them. In the second place, it had a beginning, a middle and an end, and yet it had a wonderful relationship between Bond, the girl and her father. The whole damn thing was so interesting. I’m proud of several of the scripts I’ve written for the films, and this is one of them. My only problem with the film is that I don’t think Telly Savalas was very good as Blofeld. He should have had an accent or something, but I couldn’t convince Peter Hunt to get him to use one. I had the same problem with Christopher Lee in Man With the Golden Gun. That was a real fight, because I thought the character in the novel was very unusual. But it was all lost. Lee wanted to play it like a spoiled Guard’s Officer. In other words, he was trying to outdo Bond, and it couldn’t be done.”

Licenses to Kill

Moving the subject back to the latest Bond extravaganza, Maibaum is willing to discuss his likes and dislikes concerning the film, now that he has seen a finished print of Licence to Kill.

“I don’t like to be critical of producers Cubby [Broccoli] and Michael Wilson,” he prefaces. “Let me say this, I think this is a tremendous job of production. Can you imagine putting it all together in Mexico of all places? I don’t like in any way to deprecate their efforts. I also think that there’s no doubt that John Glen is the premier action director in the world today. He is absolutely fantastic. Everyone does a car chase, but there’s always something different and unexpected in his action sequences. He’s really a genius in that way. He also has the capability of evoking believable performances from his people.

“Frankly,” Maibaum continues, “one thing the picture suffers from is that for one reason or another we’ve had so many actors playing Felix Leiter. There have been six of them. David Hedison is repeating from Live and Let Die, but it isn’t enough. The audience had sort of forgotten him. In Licence to Kill, you didn’t get the feeling that there had been this close life and death relationship between Bond and Leiter. Somehow it didn’t come over, but it was our intention that it should. I asked myself about it, and I have to attribute it to the fact that there have been so many different actors, which is particularly detrimental to this story in which Bond’s concern for Leiter and his desire for revenge is such an important part of the plot. It would have been better if there had not been so many Leiters, and if the audience had started out the picture with a very strong recall of the great camaraderie between Bond and Leiter, hooking it up with a face and a personality. I do think that Dalton is so good that he is able to compensate somewhat.

“I was pleasantly surprised by the girls, particularly Carey Lowell. She’s going to go places. Most of the Bond Girls didn’t go much further than the Bond film, but I think she has a very good chance. The other girl, Talisa Soto, was so daffy that she was more amusing than anything. I also thought Q’s involvement was marvelous, and the audience seemed happy to see him and recognize that old friend. This time, Desmond Llewellyn had something to do, although I wish we had given him a few more good lines at the end.”

Despite the fact he has some problems with the sequence, Maibaum believes that the audience has also taken to Wayne Newton as a TV evangelist who works for the Sanchez organization via his coded meditation broadcasts.

“The audience laughed and seemed to like him,” Maibaum muses. “Personally, I didn’t feel that the meditation center came off clearly enough as to what exactly its function was, but once you get there, the action is so exciting, that you don’t care. We had originally based it on plain, ordinary American evangelism, which is something you could grasp. As presented, it was pretty far out, but I think that Cubby and Michael thought the other way might have been too risky as far as adverse reaction from legitimate religious groups in the United States. But this scene is so far out and fantastic, that it doesn’t really go along with the darker, realistic mood of the rest.”

The film’s action, as Maibaum notes, is quite outrageous and wonderful, particularly the sequence involving several massive Kenworth Trucks, which have the capability of popping “wheelies” and driving sideways on two wheels.

That has never been done before,” proclaims the writer gleefully. “I personally think the sequence was a little too long with too many explosions, but what happens is that they shoot it and the material is so good that they don’t want to cut it. There’s one thing I always keep telling them when we write it and make it: less is more. It’s still something I can’t convince them about.”

Despite any criticisms he may have, Maibaum is quick to note that the audience often proves him wrong as they make each successive film in the series a box office hit. “One thing about the Bonds is that you never know what to expect until you’ve seen them in front of a packed audience, 25 percent of which is kids,” he says. “Then, you get the whole effect. You get the people who talk back to the screen, those who laugh and those who shout. It’s really amazing to see a Bond picture in front of that kind of audience, and I’m continually surprised by the reaction.”

Which leads Maibaum to ponder the changes in writing the Bond films between 1962 and today.

“I think it has been altered to a certain extent by the alteration in action-adventure pictures themselves,” he observes. “In other words, the first one was in 1962 and you could be more leisurely. You could have more dialogue scenes, and by that happening, you had an opportunity to project a fuller characterization of the people. That has slowly begun to tail off, because the action demands that you must move so fast that you haven’t got time for leisurely characterization. It’s something I regret, because the only way you can forge a characterization is by dialogue and give and take. There’s no time for it today, and I think that has gradually happened over the years to all action pictures.”

Despite these changes, Maibaum is confident that Bond will continue for many years to come. He isn’t as certain about his own involvement.

“I don’t even know if they’ll ask me to do another one,” Richard Maibaum smiles. “I always wait, and one day Cubby calls me up and says, ‘Well, do you want to do another one?’ And I say, ‘Yes.’ So, in the back of my head, I’ve got several ideas…

“Well, I’m not going to tell you about them.”


Splendid find, @Revelator, many thanks for sharing this!

Thankfully, that particular weakness wasn’t repeated with Jeffrey Wright.


Maibaum was a bit more blunt about LTK in Steven Jay Rubin’s The James Bond Movie Encyclopedia:

There was very little fantasy about Licence to Kill. The villain’s caper was bland when you compare it to destroying Fort Knox or the food supply of the world. And Bond shouldn’t be so damn funereal. There should have been more humor.

My comments on his comments, starting with his earlier ones:

  1. “One thing the picture suffers from is that for one reason or another we’ve had so many actors playing Felix Leiter."

True, but there’s not much the film could have done about this. I think the bigger issue is that Bond and Felix’s closeness could have been stressed a bit more. A stray remark or two about their past adventures, for example, would have worked. And when Leiter is being fed to the sharks, he could have told Sanchez a friend would avenge him. The film also should have given Bond another conversation with Felix before the ending. This might have resulted in a less clumsy final conversation.

  1. “Personally, I didn’t feel that the meditation center came off clearly enough as to what exactly its function was."

Perhaps, but I think audiences got the point that Joe Butcher was a satire on smarmy American evangelists.

  1. “I personally think the [track chase] sequence was a little too long with too many explosions."

I’d say any cuts would have harmed the clarity and unity of one of the best-made action sequences in any Bond film. Perhaps Maibaum is speaking more as a literary senior citizen than an action filmmaker here.

  1. “The villain’s caper was bland.”

LTK is one of the few pre-Craig Bond films where the villain’s caper takes back seat to a more personal plot—Bond’s mission of vengeance against Sanchez. The heart of the film is Bond’s destruction of Sanchez and his empire, which we see onscreen. Sanchez’s caper is on the mundane level of Kananga’s in LALD, which Maibaum criticized as being “cooking drugs in the jungle.” Perhaps, but it didn’t harm LALD at the box office. Not every Bond film needs a huge caper.

  1. “Bond shouldn’t be so damn funereal. There should have been more humor.”

I’m fine with the film’s humor content as is, but audiences at the time would have been pre-conditioned to expect more. That said, in this era Bondian humor mostly consisted of cheesy puns that Dalton obviously hated. He was better at darker and more sardonic lines (“Compliments of Sharkey!”) and the film could have used more.

As for the film having “very little fantasy”—true, but damned if you do or don’t. The more fantastical AVTAK also underperformed, and Bond could never be as fantastical as Batman. Furthermore, in '89 the series was having to operate on the same budget it had a decade ago. We can only be grateful that GoldenEye had more money to splash around.